Do your kids really know you feel about them?

As parents we normally have many feelings and emotional reactions related to our children. Of course we love them, and are happy for them, and sometimes are driven crazy by them, but one of the things that research has shown is that we often do a poor job of communicating these feelings to our children, especially our sense of how proud they make us.

From a parent’s perspective this might seem an unfair criticism. It’s easy to believe that, of course, you are proud of your children and so, of course, they know how you feel. But the reality is that more often what a child will absorb are those times when you say something critical. When your child knows he or she has done something wrong, or has fallen short of your expectations, this tends to make the strongest impression. And this is especially true if you aren’t making a point of effectively communicating the real pride that you feel for your son or daughter.

One key to making such communication work is to avoid offering praise for things that really aren’t challenging and really aren’t much of an accomplishment. Such praise ends up devaluing all of your praise, turning it all into background noise that doesn’t mean much and that your kids will ignore.

To communicate your feelings of pride more effectively, focus on the process rather than simply the outcome. A parent offering praise to a child who is working hard and putting in extra effort is usually heard and appreciated. This type of praise highlights their trying and initiative, rather than just focusing only on the results. When children are praised for putting in extra effort, it becomes a reward that reinforces the work they’re doing and makes it likely they will continue to try hard in the future.

You want to find a balance between offering too little or too much praise. As a parent you need to recognize when a child is pushing himself or herself to attempt something new or to persevere when something gets a little harder. This is when a compliment will be heard and will let your child know you’re truly proud of their efforts.

Children don’t automatically know how proud their parents are of them. For children to know about that pride, and to benefit from it, that pride needs to be communicated effectively.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.